October 9, 2015

Sibu Tales : "Make the Porridge more watery"

It was common for the Foochows of Sibu to practise frugal life style.

Porridge was a way to keep the household budge really low.

Most Foochow families lived on porridge for breakfast and dinner. Only lunch was a full meal. Perhaps that was how many men and women were very slim then.

Eating out was really a luxury and any way the conservative women in those days were also never seen in coffee shops. Then, the coffee shops were the haunts of White Faced Women or Street Women looking for some money in return for sex, i.e. sex workers. We were so conservative then , we even used a euphemism, Bah Ming Boh (Whie Faced Woman).

Now back to watery porridge.
Gutian's mushroom porridge


The Foochow porridge we had when we were children indeed was watery . Hostel porridge was watery. Condiments were a small plate of fried peanuts, some preserved Hu Cheo or toufu, some salted eggs and perhaps an omelette. Salted vegetables were usually served and all in, the cost of a Foochow watery porridge breakfast was probably only $1.00 for the whole family. Evening meal would be a repeat of our breakfast. And usually to save the wood, we would just add extra water to the morning's porridge and make the porridge MORE watery. If we had saved some food from the afternoon, it was considered again, something good for the family.

A good Foochow woman was able to budget well. She could even calculate well enough to prepare 9 meals for her family. That's the saying referring to an intelligent Foochow housewife. Thus my mother was really careful with her money and we had food on our table. The proverbial dollar was stretched to the limits.

The very frail and old people would just "drink" the thick gruel or soup of the porridge. This is called "Ang" in Foochow.

Recently I visited Fuzhou and discovered that some vegetable soups were actually thickened by this Ang. Hence the term Ang Tong (soup made from thick rice water).

Yes it is still with us...when we need to stretch our budget, we must make our porridge more watery.

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